Ever heard of giving your kids “the Birds & the Bees” discussion? Well you’ve probably never heard of “the Conscious Uncoupling” discussion. Yes it is just a fancy name for “divorce”, but it exemplifies how you should approach discussing this topic with your children. Being conscious to the fact that this decision affects them just as much as (if not more than) it affects you, and being conscious to the fact that they deserve input to this process where it is appropriate.
When you and your partner decide that the relationship is no longer healthy for either/both of you, it feels like a very personal and individual decision. However, it has a rippling affect on the people closest to you, most importantly the children closest to you. There are multiple ways however to cushion the blow when announcing a separation to children.
Be Open and Upfront
You may think that you’re doing a great job of hiding any negative feelings between your spouse and yourself, but the kids know. Children have a “sixth sense” when it comes to problems between their parents. They know when things are going well and they definitely know when things are not. Make your kids a priority in the situation and prepare them for this change. The only reason to postpone telling your kids is if you aren’t sure if it is actually going to happen. No need to jump the gun on this difficult conversation.
Continue Showing a United Front
This is extremely important. In your children’s eyes you are a package deal. Whether you are separating, divorcing, or “consciously uncoupling”, you are both still a parent to your children. They still need the same things from you that they needed when you were together. That means being able to respect one another and (at least pretend to) be as friendly as possible. Although you can decide to stop being in a relationship, you can not decide to stop being a parent.
Spare Them the Details
Telling your kids that their parents are no longer in love is hard enough. Do NOT add on top of that all the reasons you think the other parent is [insert bad words that children should not hear]. Your decision to separate is about your relationship with your partner, not your child’s relationship with their parent. Trying to damage that relationship is not your place and is just plain old cruel. Children will grow into adults and decide for themselves what they think of their parents and what type of relationship they want to have with them. Do not try to make those decisions for them.
Emphasize Your Relationship with Your Child Instead of with Your Partner
Spend this time explaining to your kids your love for them, and how that does not change. Children are very self-centered. It is just how they are at this stage of development. Honestly, your kids don’t care that you are no longer going to be together. They care about whether you and them are going to stay together. This is most likely the first time they are being introduced to the idea that two people can stop loving one another. This makes them fear a change in their relationship with you. Your job is to reinforce that your relationship with them is not going to change. This is also a good time to mention that the separation/divorce is not their fault. Be very clear that it has nothing to do with how much you love them.
Try to Create Routines and Consistency Between Two Households
Kids thrive when they are able to predict what will happen next. Divorce is a big shock, but it doesn’t have to unravel their sense of security. Creating consistency between two households can be difficult, but it will make all the difference in making the transition smooth. Don’t make a custody schedule based off of your needs. Make it based on what works best for your children. If your kids are old enough to give input, please give them that courtesy. Consistency looks like…
- Keeping some of their favorite things at both homes (favorite toys, snacks, etc.)
- Sticking to the house rules they have always had (bed time, amount of TV, etc.)
- Having both parents at family activities (birthdays, school events, etc.)
- Not changing plans at the last minute (who’s weekend it is, who’s picking them up from school, etc.)
When finding it difficult to have these discussions or finding that co-parenting isn’t going as smoothly as you would like, consider family therapy. It gives a safe place for kids to have their voices heard and for parents to practice helpful tools in the process of creating a new family dynamic.